12 Monkeys showrunner Terry Matalas breaks down series finale, philosophy of time travel

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There were explosions, battles to the death, a whole lot of splintering, and some killer twists in the series finale of SYFY’s 12 Monkeys — but how much of that was mapped out from the jump? According to showrunner Terry Matalas, quite a lot of it.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for “The Beginning,” the series finale of SYFY’s 12 Monkeys, below**

Matalas told SYFY WIRE he had that final twist of restoring Cole's life mapped out from the jump, all the way back to when he was originally conceiving how the series might eventually end. For fans watching the finale, it was certainly a tense moment — watching the cast move on in their new lives, with Cole seemingly scrubbed from the timeline. But at the last minute, Cole is returned to the freshly unraveled timeline to live out his life with Cassie. It’s a seemingly happy ending for a show that doesn’t typically feature many of them.

Well, it’s happy depending on how you see it. We never technically see Cassie stop Titan’s countdown, though it seems obvious she did — and the final frame pulls out from Cole and Cassie to show a red-ish leaf flickering on the tree above them. What’s a great ending without a bit of ambiguity, right?

“I always knew that Cole would seemingly be erased but that the surprise would be he found his way back to Cassie in its last moments,” Matalas said. “I also knew that there would be those who simply would not want a happy ending or feel that's it's justified. And that the very last image of the series is for them. You could ask the question: Did Cassie really shut down Titan? The right ending is the one you choose. I have mine.”

Along with bringing the centuries-spanning saga to an end, the finale also closed the cycle on several plot points that have been dangling since all the way back in the first season. From the ancient, mysterious source of the virus to exactly how the “Future Asshole” version of Cole fits into things — those questions were all still in the wind ahead of the final episode. But pretty much every dangling thread gets tied up. Matalas said “many of them” were mapped out well ahead of the final season, which gave the writers the flexibility to seed those reveals around years in advance.

“At the midpoint of the series (Cassie being pregnant) we knew we had to map it all out,” he said. “I like answers. I love twists. But I need them to be earned to be satisfying. So we left many hints along the way as to where we were going. You can now go back and find them!”

 

Whereas time-travel stories can often focus so much on everything except the present, Matalas said he wanted 12 Monkeys to take a different tack to the subgenre. The core message of the show was further honed by a personal tragedy during production — the death of his father — that helped solidify Matalas’ philosophy on time.

“You can get lost in the past, and worry about the future... but hey, now is right here. You can pick up the phone and tell someone you love them. Or make time for them right now,” he said. “Because someday you simply won't be able to. My father passed away halfway into making the series. That kind of thing really impresses upon you the importance of time. Someone is around now who you can talk to and tell them what they mean to you. Don't waste now!”

With multiple far-flung time periods, and the deeper introduction of the sci-fi city of Titan, the past few seasons pushed the series to its budgetary limits. Matalas said his writers, production crew, and cast squeezed as much big budget as humanly possible from their relative shoestring. Despite all that, Matalas said they made it work and then some — noting the series has been “the single most rewarding creative experience anyone can ask for.”

“We were a low-budget SYFY show.  To do those last two seasons — that series finale — a giant movie! — we had to plan and be smart with every single penny,” he said. “I had an incredible writing staff, and a brilliant cast and crew who were all in it for the love of the game. They put their hearts and souls into this story. I'm forever grateful. And miss them every day.”

Though the series was never a ratings hit, the critics and fans who found it almost universally adored it — and Matalas said he hopes that passion will help new fans discover the series for years to come.

“I just hope more people find it and are able to see what we accomplished,” he said. “I’m really proud of this story. It's sweeping and epic. It has heart and humor. It's about as pure me as I could possibly write.”

As for what’s next, now that 12 Monkeys is officially wrapped? Matalas said he couldn’t say much, but revealed he is actually working on another adaptation of a Universal movie (much as 12 Monkeys was loosely based on the 1995 film of the same name), and teased that it would have “some of the same character and puzzle DNA” of 12 Monkeys, though he admitted it’s not a time-travel tale this time around. 

“I hope we get to make it!,” he said.

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